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The program launch took place on Aug. 27 at Carleton University. Photo: Courtesy of READ, Chris Roussakis.

A collaborative effort by Carleton, the U of O, La Cité, and Algonquin College

Launched on Aug. 27, the David C. Onley Initiative for Employment and Enterprise Development is a two-year project with $5 million in funding committed by the provincial government to advance employability and entrepreneurship for postsecondary students and graduates with disabilities.

Named after former Ontario Lieutenant-General, David C. Onley, the initiative is a collaboration between four partner institutions with Carleton University at the helm, along with the University of Ottawa, La Cité, and Algonquin College. The Research, Education, Accessibility and Design (READ) initiative and Paul Menton Centre for Students with Disabilities at Carleton are also partners of the initiative.

The Onley Initiative will place 10 research and development offices across the four partner institutions to undertake applied research and develop programs within existing post-secondary services, and through collaboration with industry sectors. In an email to the Fulcrum, representatives from the initiative mentioned a deep focus on working with relevant community partners. Creating a network of employers, agencies and the government is identified as imperative to rising public awareness about and tackling the barriers people with disabilities face in the job market.

As noted by representatives from the initiative, the goals for the program are to increase the capacity of student services to support employability and career development of students with disabilities, and the capacity of employers to hire and support students and graduates with disabilities.

According to a 2012 survey by Statistics Canada, 47 per cent of 15 to 64 year old with disabilities in Canada were employed compared to 74 per cent for those without disabilities. The survey also noted that among those with current or recent work experience, 43 per cent considered themselves to be at a disadvantage as a result of their condition and 44 per cent felt that their employer would consider them at a disadvantage.

In its inaugural year, the partners hope both to fully understand the various factors that contribute to lower rates of employment for persons with disabilities in the Ottawa region and implement meaningful programs. The placement of specialized staff at each partner institution, the development of services, and community partnerships are just being.They are also determined to turn the knowledge they gain over the next year into immediate and future actionable steps. This is the portion of the initiative considered to be applied research and development.

According to a 2017 paper by Statistics Canada, in 2014, one-fifth of the overall population aged 25 to 64 were persons with a disability. Further, 23 per cent of these people were considered low income compared to 9 per cent of those without a disability.

Continuing in the statement released to the Fulcrum, representatives of the initiative say this is all about creating opportunities accompanied by knowledge and resources that can be used as a transferable model for communities across Ontario.